This is really bad. It's easy for me to imagine a Seattle with no Starbucks or Pike Place Market. But it's next to impossible for me to imagine a Seattle with no College Inn Pub. What kind of place is this? The wood-warm bar, the professors and students chatting in booths, the low ceiling. All of this boozy richness, which was in the basement of a University District hotel, the Tudor style College Inn, that has two floors above its lobby and street-level businesses, did not survive the pandemic.
The announcement of the closing was made on Facebook:
It is with the greatest of sadness that we are announcing the permanent closure of The College Inn Pub. Without a vibrant University of Washington community in full force on campus we cannot be a profitable business. If there are any right words they are thank you. Thank you first to all of our staff who for all these years have worked hard to make the Pub what it was.
Now, as a boy, I was only allowed to watch PBS. My parents, African graduate students, mistrusted American popular culture. It looked like garbage. What was the Fonz going to do for me? I was only allowed one TV show a week from the main networks, but I could watch PBS to my heart's content. Lucky for me, PBS had an excellent drama called The Paper Chase.
The show starred an actor whose facial expressions, manner of walk, aristocratic diction made a powerful impression on my boyhood, John Houseman. He played a professor at the Harvard Law School. He'd walk into the classroom and deliver a lecture. His habit was to crush to bits and pieces whatever ego a student had. He'd leave the classroom in the way a general leaves a conquered country. After the lesson, the students would either go to their rooms to study some obscure case or visit a pub to moan and groan about how very hard their professor was. This pub looked a lot like the College Inn Pub.
That's one reason why I loved the College Inn Pub so much. It always gave me the feeling of being back in The Paper Chase. And this feeling was enhanced by the chatter of the professors and graduate students, most whom were in the sciences rather than the humanities. I also visited the bar with Marxists, philosophers, novelists, and poets. I finished editing Ijeoma Oluo's feature, "Heart of Whiteness," in one of the booths. The wood smelled of beer, the wall as made of old bricks, and the Tudor design of the hotel was extended to some of the bar's structural features, and I secretly believed the small kitchen made the best Italian sub in Seattle (black forest ham, salami, pepperoni, provolone, chopped tomatoes, olives, and pepperoncini).
The basement bar, accessed by a steep set of steps covered by a worn carpet, also had a string of memorable bartenders, the most recent of which was Gabriel Bogart. He always wore a baseball cap a little to the side, and he never failed to play the best beats and tunes you never heard of. When he was behind the bar, you were in a cloud of obscure hiphop, dub, remixes, versions, reversions. His selections often reminded me of Riz Rollins. Both are, by the way, reverends. Gabriel Bogart, who also writes fiction, worked at the pub for 13-and-a-half years. "I am passed worrying about the employment side," Bogart said to me in an email, "but am very sad the place is gone. It was the best 'Adult Community Center' I frequented. I am sad for the owners and their loss of business."
The day Seattle gets a hockey team called Kraken, we lose the College Inn Pub. This universe makes no sense.